Things the NHL needs to clarify about Shane Pinto’s suspension

Jan 25, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators center Shane Pinto (57) skates to the bench after scoring in thew first period against the New York Islanders at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators center Shane Pinto (57) skates to the bench after scoring in thew first period against the New York Islanders at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /

News broke Thursday morning that the Ottawa Senators’ restricted free agent Shane Pinto would be suspended for sports betting.

Ever since the widespread legalization of sports betting throughout the United States and Canada, following a 2018 United States Supreme Court ruling leagues have been fearing situations like this. That hasn’t stopped them from diving headfirst into embracing sports betting.

A few years back, in the early stages of the sports betting boom, we sat down with Don LaGreca who is the New York Rangers radio broadcaster and an ESPN radio personality on ESPN 98.7 New York.

At the time La Greca hosted an “Ice Picks” NHL betting segment on the Michael Kay Show. One of the questions we asked him was if the NHL feared situations like this, or what the NBA experienced with former referee Tim Donaghy, or what happened with Pete Rose in Major League Baseball hitting the ice.

La Greca’s answer was simply that these players and officials are paid well enough that they shouldn’t consider throwing away their livelihood and reputation on something clearly against the rules.

Shane Pinto is the first NHLer to get a suspension for sports gambling. We have a few questions about the NHL rules and how they affect Pinto as a player currently not under contract.

Shane Pinto was suspended for violating the NHL’s gambling policy.

Shane Pinto is a very interesting case. He’s currently a restricted free agent without a contract. By definition, he is not currently employed by the NHL.

Does that make him immune from following the NHL rules until he is under contract? It’s a very interesting case, one that we’re sure the NHLPA will have a say on.

Speaking of the NHLPA, even without a contract, Pinto is still currently a part of the NHLPA. The NHLPA works with the league to both set these rules and educate the players about them. Even if Pinto is technically not contractually bound to the league at this very moment, he’s still bound by being a member of the player’s association.

As the day went on and the news was released, a few more details came out about the suspension. According to Elliotte Friedman, Pinto’s suspension retroactively began with the first game of the season and is not dependent on him signing a new contract.

Bruce Garrioch reported that the Senators took back all previous contract offers to Pinto leaving him with only his qualifying offer. Frank Servalli added that the NHLPA and Pinto will not appeal the suspension as part of an agreement.

The most notable gambling case the NHL has dealt with in the “legal sports betting era” of post-2018 was with the San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane being sued by a Las Vegas casino for gambling debts.

There were rumors that Kane bet on Sharks games but an NHL investigation could not prove the incredibly serious allegations to the integrity of the game.

In pre-2018, the NHL dealt with now Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet was caught up in a then-illegal sports gambling ring in New Jersey.

Other people who should pay close attention to how Pinto’s case plays out are drafted players who have yet to sign an NHL contract. If you’re drafted by an NHL team, have an NHL team hold your player’s rights but have yet to put pen to paper, are you bound by the same rules players under contract are?

The NCAA dealt with several students from Iowa State and the University of Iowa students caught gambling, some on their team’s own games.

They feel under punishment from the NCAA’s own rules on sports betting and local laws. Currently, college athletes are not allowed to bet on any sport that the NCAA sponsors teams in, no matter the school, game, or level.

If a drafted college hockey player was caught doing the same, even if they escape NHL punishment there’s still punishment from the NCAA and their own college.

What about hockey junior leagues? What about overseas players? What if a European prospect comes to America and places a legal sports bet on the NHL while he’s still playing in a European league?

ESPN put together a comprehensive list of what types of betting are and aren’t allowed under league rules. As for what the NHL specifically allows, here’s the quote:

"The collective bargaining agreement states: “Gambling on any NHL Game is prohibited.” That rule is also posted in every dressing room around the league.The NHL constitution, a document that details everything from club ownership rules to the powers of the commissioner, conveys similar information. Players and those working for a team or the league are allowed to bet on non-NHL events."

The same article does little to shed light on Shane Pinto’s situation. Although the specific wording of who it applies to might help Pinto’s case:

"It applies to players and those working for a team or the league."

Is Pinto a player? Yes, but without a contract is he technically a player for the league at the moment his bets happened? If he’s not under contract he’s’ not “working for a team” as the wording goes.

Pinto’s situation has a few similarities with a sports betting case from the NFL. Then Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was the first NFL player to receive a punishment for sports betting.

Just like Pinto, he was a young and promising player who was away from their team at the time (one notable difference is that while Ridley was not playing, he was under contract).

The Ridley saga ended with him being traded to a different team. Could the Senators do the same? Trading Pinto wasn’t an unheard-of possibility already with his current lack of contract.

As of last week, Pinto has not requested a trade, as per Dan Rosen’s NHL mailbag. Perhaps his suspension could change things.

Thinking like a lawyer here, Pinto absolutely deserved to be suspended. we can argue that the suspension is too long. We can argue that the suspension is excessive considering he did an otherwise legal activity.

We can argue the suspension is excessive considering he never bet on NHL games. The problem is what Pinto did was against the rules. Agree with the rules or not, the NHL and NHLPA have gone to great lengths to make players aware of these rules. Pinto knew the rules and still broke them.

The NHL set Pinto’s suspension at 41 games, half of the regular season, and tied for the longest suspension ever handed out by the league. The Senators and Pinto both released statements and the league specified that Pinto had not bet on NHL games.

There was no further clarification on the rules of Pinto not being under contract and Pinto accepted responsibility so at the moment an appeal looks unlikely.

No information was revealed where Pinto physically was when he placed the bets, for example, if he was at a team facility, on the road, or in a place where sports betting is otherwise legal.

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